A massive FCC spectrum release—and new advances in wireless technologies—accelerate an era of incredibly fast data.
Mobile data consumption is soaring, but a broad set of technology advances is poised to transform what today’s smartphones and other wireless mobile devices can do—ushering in high-resolution video and fully immersive, 3-D environments.
The next-generation technology will eventually be defined in a standard that will be known as “5G.” It is expected to provide Internet connections at least 40 times faster—and with at least four times more coverage worldwide—than the current standard, known as 4G LTE.
Higher-frequencies carry significantly more data. But they are also far more easily blocked by buildings, foliage, and even rain, making their use for mobile communications quite challenging (some existing systems use these frequencies for fixed point-to-point wireless connections with clear lines of sight).
But thanks to advances in signal processing, chips, and antenna technologies, Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, Ericsson, and other companies will be able to use this spectrum for next-generation mobile connectivity.
The new technology is expected to use so-called “millimeter wave” radio spectrum, or wavelengths above 24 gigahertz. The FCC’s move in mid-July made the United States the first country to make far more of this spectrum available for commercial use, as opposed to primarily for radar and military systems.
The NYU and other demos are showing how millimeter wave signals can be used for mobile communications and get around the biggest problem: they’re blocked by objects that come between transmitter and receiver.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work being done at all the major telecom companies, big and small. You see a lot of good activity happening throughout the industry, realizing that the millimeter wave future is coming very, very quickly,” says Ted Rappaport, who heads wireless research at NYU.
The groundswell of activity comes amid exponential growth in wireless data demands as billions of people expect more capacity in their mobile devices. Additional demand will come from machines like networked cars and smart power grids.
While not without it’s problems, a new generation of microprocessors will open up some blazing bandwidth in the next few years. It is not so much that it will take a huge amount of bandwidth to pilot a drone freighter, it is that there will be so many of them criss-crossing the planet. Given that lower frequency spectrum is already fully utilized, this is a happy outcome.
UPDATE Here’s a story of a test conducted in Sweden already achieving 22 times greater performance than 4G. They are going for 1,000x!
UPDATE This press release is short on details but mentions testing with drones:
Ericsson, the Swedish networking giant has wasted little time in responding to rival Nokia’s latest efforts by partnering with China Mobile over a drone field trial that they say is the first ever to be 5G-enabled.
5G doesn’t yet exist as a standard, of course, so how this drone prototype can claim to be 5G-enabled isn’t entirely clear. However these two are hardly alone in looking to get ahead of the 5G game and we can expect to see plenty more of this sort of thing in the coming months and years. Inevitably there were few 5G specifics although low-latency, which is expected to be a cardinal feature of the 5G standard, did get a mention.
“With commercial implementation expected from 2020, Ericsson’s 5G research is coming out of the labs and into live test networks,” said Chris Houghton, Head of Region Northeast Asia at Ericsson. We see tremendous opportunities in 5G, and we are mobilizing the ecosystem and collaborating with industry leaders such as China Mobile to help make 5G a reality.”